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Buford rises above mistakes, Carver for 36-6 win

Wolves face Callaway in Class AAA semifinal; coin flip to decide site

POSTED: November 29, 2013 10:21 p.m.
NAT GURLEY/The Times

Buford defensive back Tre Neal watches a Carver pass fall incomplete in the first half Friday night during the Class AAA state semifinal game at Tom Riden Stadium in Buford.

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BUFORD — It wasn’t pretty, but Buford’s quarterfinal matchup with fellow state power Carver-Columbus finished in usual fashion — with the Wolves on top.

They had to overcome four turnovers and a few stalled drives, but the result was still the same. Buford rolled to a 36-6 win over the Tigers on Friday, sending the defending state champs to the semifinals for the seventh consecutive season.

“It’s not who we are. But it’s football,” Wolves coach Jess Simpson said. “In college games they’re going to fumble, and on Sundays they’re going to fumble. It is what it is. We’re going to work hard on cleaning that up come Monday.”

Through one quarter, Buford (13-0) led 22-0 and appeared to be headed for yet another one of its countless blowout victories that have defined the Wolves as one of the state’s most successful teams in the past decade.

But with two lost fumbles and an interception in the second quarter, Class AAA’s top-ranked squad suddenly looked like a team that could be taken down.

The defense said otherwise. Only one of Buford’s turnovers turned into a score — the only touchdown Carver scored all night — and the rest were fizzled Tiger drives that ended in punts and turnovers on downs. By the end of night, the Wolves held Carver (11-2) to just 58 yards offense, including minus-10 rushing yards.

“We talk about winning sudden change — we won three of four sudden changes tonight,” Simpson said. “It’s hard to have the energy you need to have, it’s hard to focus and it’s hard not to pout about the last play.

“That’s a thing a lot of high school boys have a hard time doing. There’s a turnover and then an explosive play the next play.”

Buford now turns its focus to its semifinal opponent, Callaway, which defeated St. Pius X 35-21 on Friday. As two No. 1 seeds, home field will be decided on a coin flip Saturday morning.

Simpson believes his team is well-tested entering next week’s game, despite the lopsided score against Carver. Even with a 295-yard performance from their offense, the Wolves saw drives fall short of the usual touchdown. They were forced to kick a pair of field goals in the first quarter after attempting just three all season, and found themselves in third-down situations on 12 different occasions.

“The running didn’t look glamorous, but those 3- and 4- and 5-yard runs we kept hammering helped us move the chains and get downfield,” Simpson said. “We said all week that gaining a yard on those guys is hard. They’re very talented and very well-coached on defense. We keep pounding and were very patient.”

As always, Buford didn’t get jaw-dropping numbers from any individual player, but piled up the yardage by distributing the carries among 10 different rushers in the game.

Thomas Wilson led the charge with 83 yards on 14 carries, including a 15-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter that ended the Wolves’ two-quarter scoreless slump and secured another win.

“I think it gave us breathing room,” said Wilson, who is committed to Missouri. “If I scored or anyone else scored, I’m just happy to be able to win.”

Josh Thomas added another 59 yards on 13 carries. Quarterback Taylor Mitchell passed for 53 yards and a touchdown, and ran in another.

Buford didn’t count on its offense to find the scoreboard for the first time. But not its defense, either. On the opening drive of the game, a bad snap sailed over the head of the Carver punter and bounced into the end zone, giving the Wolves a safety and a 2-0 lead a minute into the game.

Despite good field position for the Wolves to open their next two drives — they started both in Carver territory — the Tigers’ defense held Buford to a pair of field goals. After successful 30- and 39-yard attempts by Matt Bonadies, the Wolves took an 8-0 lead with 3:30 left in the first.

An interception by David Curry on the next Carver drive set up a 35-yard run by Wilson to put the Wolves deep in Tigers territory. Three plays later, Mitchell slipped into the left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard run to give Buford its first touchdown and a 15-0 lead.

On the Wolves’ next possession, Evyn Cooper took a sweep 8 yards for another score to put Buford up 22-0 with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

Then then troublesome second quarter began for Buford.

The Wolves fumbled on their first two possessions of the quarter and needed their defense to keep Carver out of the end zone. It worked, but an interception from Buford quarterback Montgomery VanGorder to the Tigers’ Khane Pass only gave Carver another opportunity to score.

It was the only time the Tigers were successful. Four plays and 31 yards later, quarterback Jawon Pass punched in a goal-line keeper for his team’s only score of the night.

Wilson’s fourth-quarter touchdown put Buford up 29-6, allowing the Wolves to run down the clock the rest of the way. Their lone pass in the fourth quarter was a 36-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Ryan Shipman with 9:07 left to play.



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